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Tuesday, 20 April 2021 03:26

A Slice of Time: Review of Josiah Thompson’s Last Second in Dallas

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Milicent Cranor determines that, despite its flaws, Last Second in Dallas is a stimulating book about an eternal puzzle concerning the confounding details of this monumental murder. Josiah Thompson’s book is rich in detail and a lot of it is factual and not well-known.


If you take a moment in time and slice it down the middle, all kinds of things may come tumbling out—even state secrets.

Moments on films of the Kennedy assassination are sliced into about 18 frames per second.

In his latest book, Last Second in Dallas, Josiah Thompson focuses on one of those seconds, during which time, he says, and I agree, the president’s head exploded as it was hit by multiple bullets.

To the mainstream media, Thompson has always been a credible source, so it’s a wonderful thing that, in his latest book, this credible source promotes—without reservation—the concept of conspiracy in the assassination.

The strongest proof described in the book is the famous Dictabelt tape, a recording of what a motorcycle policeman’s stuck-open microphone picked up—the sounds of five separate shots. Some were fired in such rapid succession that more than one shooter had to have been involved. And not all came from the same direction.

To me, it’s inconceivable that gunfire would not have been recorded under the circumstances described. So, it seems significant that apparently no recording exists of only three shots—the government-approved number.

Thompson attempts to correlate these sounds with specific frames of the Abraham Zapruder film of the event. In gruesome color stills, he points out what he believes is evidence of an additional shot.

You may or may not agree with his conclusions, but it doesn’t matter. You should have no trouble correlating—however loosely—these additional shots with what bystanders said they heard, what they saw, and when. Below is a small collection of their observations, selected for their relevance to the tape. I find them fascinating.

The Witnesses

Note: When a witness refers to a “first” or “second” shot, they’re just talking about the first or second shot they heard. Many did not hear (or heard but didn’t register) the earlier shots, because of the ambient noise from the crowd, and especially the motorcycles.

Brehm, Charles (Bystander)

Saw JFK hit in the head with the second shot, heard a third.

The President was leaning forward when he stiffened perceptibly at the same instant what appeared to be a rifle shot sounded…the President seemed to stiffen and come to a pause when another shot sounded and the President appeared to be badly hit in the head. BREHM said when the President was hit by the second shot he could notice the President’s hair fly up…and then [he] roll[ed] over to his side…Brehm said that a third shot followed…between the first and third shots, the President’s car only seemed to move some 10 or 12 feet…almost came to a halt after the first shot. [FBI statement] (22WCH837)

Foster, James (Patrolman)

The following summary is confusing, but it sounds like this officer saw JFK hit in the head by shots fired almost simultaneously.

Another report was heard by Patrolman Foster and, at about the same time the report was heard, he observed the President’s head appear to explode and immediately thereafter, he heard a third report…Patrolman Foster stated that because of the distance from the place where the shot appeared to come from [Depository Building], he felt the third shot struck President Kennedy as he heard the sound of the second shot that was fired. Immediately after President Kennedy was struck with a second bullet, the car in which he was riding pulled to the curb, the motorcycle escorts started maneuvering and scattering, a man which he recognized to be a Secret Service agent jumped on to the rear of the President’s car. (CD 897, DL 100–1046)

Hickey, George (Secret Service)

Hickey seems to be describing the effects of two bullets fired nearly simultaneously at Kennedy’s head, one of which he thought was a near miss, disturbing only his hair.

I heard a loud report which sounded like a firecracker…A disturbance in 679X caused me to look forward toward the President’s car…At the moment he was almost sitting erect I heard two [more] reports which I thought were shots and that appeared to me completely different in sound than the first report and were in such rapid succession that there seemed to be practically no time element between them.

It looked to me as if the President was struck in the right upper rear of his head. The first shot of the second two seemed as if it missed because the hair on the right side of his head flew forward and there didn’t seem to be any impact against his head. The last shot seemed to hit his head and cause a noise at the point of impact which made him fall forward and to his left again. (18WCH762)

Hill, Clint (Secret Service Agent)

Photographic evidence of when Clint Hill reacted suggests he never heard the actual first shot. Stranger still, he thought “the” head shot occurred while he was holding onto the limousine. But the film taken by Marie Muchmore shows that, even before he reached the limousine, the top of JFK’s head rose up about an inch, emitted translucent white fluid, then closed, a lid slammed shut. Unknown to him, what Hill witnessed appears to be yet another shot to JFK’s head. JFK was then shot again.

And I heard a noise from my right rear…and I saw President Kennedy grab at himself and lurch forward and to the left. This is the first sound that I heard…I jumped from the car…ran to the Presidential limousine…Between the time I originally grabbed the handhold and until I was up on the car…the second noise that I heard had removed a portion of the President's head, and he had slumped noticeably to his left. (2WCH138)

When I mounted the car…it had a different sound…than the first sound that I heard. The second one had almost a double sound—as though you were standing against something metal and firing into it, and you hear both the sound of a gun going off and the sound of the cartridge hitting the metal place…” (2WCH144)

As I lay on the back seat…I saw a part of his skull with hair on it lying in his seat. (18WCH742) [No hair was reported, which is too bad because its length might have helped show what part of the skull it was.]

Holland, S.M. (Bystander)

Holland heard an additional shot after he saw Kennedy hit in the head. For me, Thompson’s riveting interview of this man—what he heard, and especially what he saw—is just amazing. It correlates with what another critical witness saw, and it is one of the highlights of the book. He appears to have found a sniper’s nest behind the fence on the grassy knoll. You will have to buy the book to see what he said.

Hudson, Emmett (Bystander)

Films show Hudson still standing over a second after Kennedy’s head exploded, which happened when the limousine was in front of Zapruder. Other witnesses corroborate Hudson’s claim that a shot was fired over a second after Kennedy was hit in the head.

I happened to be looking right at him when that bullet hit him—the second shot…it looked like it hit him somewhere along about a little bit behind the ear and a little bit above the ear.

I just laid down…resting my arm on the ground and when that third shot rung out and when I was close to the ground—you could tell the shot was coming from above and kind of behind.

I don’t know if you have ever laid down close to the ground, you know, when you heard the reports coming, but it’s a whole lot plainer than it is when you are standing up in the air…right along about even with these steps, pretty close to even with this here, the last shot was fired… (7WCH560-561)

Kinney, Samuel A. (Secret Service)

The first shot was fired…he slumped to the left. Immediately he sat up again. At this time, the second shot was fired and I observed hair flying from the right side of his head…I did hear three shots, but do not recall which shots were those that hit the president. (18WCH732)

Landis, Paul (Secret Service)

It was at this moment that I heard a second report and saw the President’s head split open... I also remember Special Agent Clinton Hill attempting to climb onto the back of the car at the time the second shot was fired…

I heard what sounded like the report of a high-powered rifle from behind me…My first glance was at the President…I saw him moving in a manner which I thought was to look in the direction of the sound. I did not realize that the President had been shot at this point.

I glanced towards the President and he still appeared to be fairly upright in his seat…I also remember Special Agent Clinton Hill attempting to climb onto the back of the President’s car.

It was at this moment that I heard a second report and it appeared that the President’s head split open with a muffled exploding sound…the sound you get by shooting a high-powered bullet into a five gallon can of water or shooting into a melon. I saw pieces of flesh and blood flying through the air and the President slumped out of sight toward Mrs. Kennedy…

I still was not certain from which direction the second shot came, but my reaction at this time was that the shot came from somewhere towards the front, right-hand side of the road. (18WCH754-5)

McClain, H.B. (Motorcycle Officer)

McClain appears to be describing a man caught in a crossfire.

The force of this bullet threw him this way, and then back this way, so I think the man was shot twice. He was falling away and then all of a sudden, he just went back the other way. (CSpan)

Moorman, Mary (Bystander)

It appears that Moorman did not hear a shot until she took her Polaroid picture of Kennedy getting hit in the head. She said she fell to the ground when she heard the shots. Films show her still standing with her camera aimed at Kennedy after the first headshot.

As the motorcade started toward me I took two pictures. As President Kennedy was opposite me, I took a picture of him. As I snapped the picture…I heard a shot ring out. President Kennedy kind of slumped over. Then I heard another shot ring out and Mrs. Kennedy jumped up in the car and said, “My God, he has been shot.” When I heard these shots ring out, I fell to the ground to keep from being hit myself. I heard three or four shots in all… (19WCH487)

Skelton, Royce (Bystander)

This witness’s remarks fit the pattern in that he heard more than three shots, but maybe not all struck anyone in the limousine. He said he saw a bullet hit the pavement at the left rear of the car, and the concrete was knocked to the south away from the car. If true, that would seem to put the shooter in front and on the right, the north side of the street—in other words, the grassy knoll.

I was standing on top of the train trestle where it crosses Elm Street with Austin Miller…I heard something which I thought was fireworks. I saw something hit the pavement at the left rear of the car, then the car got in the right-hand lane and I heard two more shots. I heard a woman say “Oh no” or something and grab a man inside the car. I then heard another shot and saw the bullet hit the pavement. The concrete was knocked to the south away from the car. It hit the pavement in the left or middle lane… (19WCH496) [Later, he told the Warren Commission he saw smoke coming off the cement where the bullet hit.]

Willis, Mrs. Philip (Bystander)

Said the head was wounded on the “second” shot; then heard a third. (CD 1245)

The Dictabelt

The timing of shot sounds on the Dictabelt tape is critical to their interpretation as gunfire. Doubt was cast on that interpretation, at first, because those sounds seemed to have come too late.

I cannot understand this part of the book and will not attempt to explain it except to say that it has to do with when, in relation to the shot sounds, Sheriff Bill Decker was heard (but barely, on a fuzzy tape) to say “Hold everything secure.” The assumption is, he uttered those words a minute after the last actual shot.

So, if those words can be heard too close to the time of the shot sounds on the tape—then those sounds can’t be shots. (Thompson offers a technical explanation for how Decker’s comment only appeared to have been made at the time of the shot sounds—a matter of cross talk, from a different channel. I am not qualified to do the subject justice, and won’t try.)

If you want to study this issue further, you should of course read all the technical material in Thompson’s book, as well as the analyses of others, but also study the relevant testimony provided below.

Who Heard What in the Lead Car, and When? Who Said What, and When?

Decker was in the lead car, right behind Jesse Curry, the chief of police. To his right, was Special Agent Winston Lawson. In the back, to the right of Decker, sat Forrest Sorrels, Special Agent in Charge, Dallas office.

A motorcycle officer, James Chaney, rode up to the lead car to tell the sheriff what was happening. He didn’t begin this journey until after seeing JFK shot in the head. Yet at least one occupant of the car specifically said he heard two more shots after Chaney reached the car.

James Chaney was not interviewed by the Warren Commission, but here is what Officer Marrion Baker said about Chaney:

I talked to Jim Chaney and he made the statement that the two shots hit Kennedy first and the other one hit the Governor. He was on the right rear of the car or to the side, and then at that time the chief of police, he didn‘t know anything about this, and he [Chaney] moved up and told him, and then that was during the time that the Secret Service men were trying to get in the car, and at the time, after the shooting, from the time the first shot rang out, the car stopped completely, pulled to the left and stopped…Now I have heard several of them say that. Mr. Truly was standing out there, he said it stopped. Several officers said it stopped completely. (3WCH266)

Curry, Jesse (Chief, Dallas Police Department)

Curry said he heard two more shots after Officer Chaney rode up beside himthat is, two more shots after the head shot.

I said, “What was that, was that a firecracker?”…I couldn’t tell whether it was coming from the railroad yard or whether it was coming from behind but I said over the radio, I said, “Get someone up in the railroad yard and check.”

And then about this time, I believe it was Officer Chaney rode up beside of me and looking back in the rearview mirror I could see some commotion in the President’s car and after this there had been two more reports, but these other two reports I could tell were coming [from] behind instead of from the railroad yards. (4WCH161) [Emphasis mine]

Decker, J.E. “Bill” (Dallas County Sheriff)

Sheriff Decker apparently associates seeing brain spatter with the first shot he heard.

As the motorcade was proceeding down Elm Street, I distinctly remember hearing two shots. As I heard the first retort [sic], I looked back over my shoulder and saw what appeared to me to be a spray of water come out of the rear seat of the president’s car. At this same moment, Mr. Lawson said “Let’s get out of here and get to the nearest hospital”…At the same time, Mr. Curry was on his intercom radio giving instructions to the motorcycle escort to move out…

We moved out immediately at which time I took the microphone and requested the DPD dispatcher 521 to advise my Station 5-Radioroom to notify all officers in my department to immediately get over to the area where shooting occurred and saturate the area of the park, railroad and all buildings… (19WCH458)

Lawson, Winston (Secret Service)

This Secret Service agent who didn’t hear a shot until he was “quite close” to the underpass heard two shots after witnesses were either running around or hitting the ground. But those reactions did not happen until after the first headshot.

I heard this very loud report…I can recall spinning around and looking back, and seeing people over on the grassy median area kind of running around and dropping down, which would be in this area in here [described elsewhere as the area between Elm and Main]…Then I heard two more sharp reports. (4WCH352

Sorrels, Forrest (Special Agent)

The first shot was heard…I just said “What’s that?” And turned around to look up on this terrace part there, because the sound sounded like it came from the back and up in that direction…Within about three seconds there were two more similar reports and I said “Let’s get out of here” and looked back, all the way back, then, to where the President’s car was, and I saw some confusion, movement there, and the car just seemed to lurch forward.  And, in the meantime, a motorcycle officer had run up on the right-hand side and the chief yelled to him, “Anybody hurt?”…And the chief took his microphone and told them to get to the hospital, and said, “Surround the building.” He didn’t say what building…And by that time we had gotten almost in under the underpass… (7WCH345)

Thompson and the Medical Evidence

The gold standard for any report is simple: Tell readers what they need to know to make up their own minds. Do not put your finger on the scale. Never omit significant information which conflicts with your own conclusions.

Thompson doesn’t always follow this rule. To illustrate this, I have selected the throat wound, an easier specimen to deal with than the messy, messy head wound. (That subject deserves its own messy article.)

ISSUE #1: When the Pathologists Knew of a Bullet Wound in the Throat

Why it’s important: had they acknowledged the bullet wound in the throat—as opposed to just a wound created by a tracheotomy—they would have been obliged to document it, by photographing it under magnification, measuring it and, most important, taking tissue samples for microscopic examination—which would have revealed whether the wound had been an exit or an entrance.

Thompson accepts this story: “The first time any of them knew a bullet wound underlay the tracheotomy incision was when they opened their copies of the Washington Post the next morning and learned what Dr. Perry had done.”

The next morning, when the body was gone, and it was too late to document evidence of that wound. 

It’s understandable why doctors under pressure to prove a foregone conclusion would want to avoid proving anything that contradicted that conclusion. But why does Thompson repeat this false claim? And why does he leave out facts that contradict it?

Facts omitted by Thompson:

Both pathologists and the autopsy photographer (and others) indicated they knew of the throat wound that night, while it was still possible to document it.

Commander James Humes, MD: Testimony to the Warren Commission

In 1964, Humes testified that they knew, on the night of the autopsy, that only a missile could have caused the bleeding and bruising in JFK’s throat—and not Perry’s surgery (which involved severing strap muscles in the neck)—because at the time of Perry’s work, JFK’s heart had stopped circulating blood. He bases this on the fact that no bleeding or bruising was caused by cutting on other places on JFK’s body. (2WCH367-8) [In my opinion, Humes volunteered this information out of vanity. He didn’t want to look like a fool who didn’t see what was in front of him. And he was talking behind closed doors…]

J.Thornton Boswell: Testimony to the HSCA

Dr. Boswell said he remembered seeing “part of the perimeter of a bullet wound in the anterior neck.” 

J.Thornton Boswell: Testimony to the ARRB

Did you reach the conclusion that there had been a transit wound through the neck during the course of the autopsy itself? Response: Oh, yes.

Our conclusions had been that night and then reinforced the next day that it was a tracheostomy through a bullet wound.

John Stringer, Autopsy Photographer, to the ARRB

Said the doctors felt around in the throat trying to find bullet fragments or anything sharp.

Thompson also accepts the idea that the pathologists didn’t have time to do a proper job because the family and the president’s physician were rushing them. But if they were in such a hurry, why did they spend time carefully weighing each organ and measuring every heart valve, instead of focusing on the bullet wounds?

ISSUE #2: Throat WoundEntrance or Exit? Thompson’s Theory

In his new book, Thompson describes his theory of the throat wound, the same one he presented in Six Seconds in Dallas – that it was created when a little bone or bullet fragment was driven downward “by the explosion of the president’s head.” And he said Newsweek and the Journal of the AMA (JAMA) claimed that is what happened. But JAMA is notorious for publishing pseudoscientific pro Warren Commission propaganda. And Newsweek isn’t exactly a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Thompson believes the laceration in the brain described in the autopsy report is possible evidence of the fragment’s journey downward. Apparently, he does not know of another, perhaps more likely explanation for such lacerations. They are usually formed by cavitation—when the bullet violently displaces tissue in its path, it creates a large temporary cavity. And perpendicular to the bullet’s path, cracks are formed where the tissue was stretched until it tore. You can see these perpendicular cracks in soap or gelatin after a bullet passes through.

In any case, there’s nothing wrong with expressing theories, but, as mentioned above, you should always include the other side of the story, if it is valid.

Facts omitted by Thompson:

Malcolm O. Perry, MD who performed the tracheotomy had good reason to believe the wound was an entry, and not just because it was small. There was a far more definitive reason: Perry said “the edges were bruised.” And Charles Baxter, MD referred to the skin damage around the hole. That bruising takes place when the skin is crushed by the bullet against harder internal structures. In this case, the skin between bullet and trachea. (All entry wounds are “shored” or buttressed by tissue on the other side.)

What Perry said about the internal damage in the neck suggests that if a bullet entered the throat, it was probably traveling at medium velocity (as defined circa 1963).

There’s some concussive damage to surrounding organs—these are the kind of things one sees with gunshot wounds, in a blast injury…And with high velocity, we do see a lot. Now the low velocity stuff, it’s often just a track, a wound track, with very little concussive or blast injury. This one was in between. There was evidence of some blast injury, but not like, say, what one sees with a high velocity rifle.

Whether it was coming or going, Perry was talking about damage done by a bullet. And it is reasonable to assume that he would recognize whether a small hole in the skin was created by something exiting. In 1963, Perry was already an assistant professor of surgery, specializing in vascular surgery. In his obituary, the New York Times reported “In his long career, Dr. Perry was chief of vascular surgery or professor of surgery, or both, at the University of Washington in Seattle; Cornell Medical College in New York City; Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, and the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, as well as the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.”

Thompson believes that if the bullet entered the throat, it would necessarily strike the spine. But consider the bullet’s path if it came from the front. The path is defined by three documented, apparently connected points, demonstrating that path was at an angle:

  1. Middle of the throat, skin
  2. Right side of trachea
  3. Right lung, top

Please click here for more details on this. If the wound is an entrance, the bullet went only so far before stopping. Some believe the pathologists—or someone else—removed the remains of whatever missile entered, if one entered.

If you believe the front is an exit, this is the government-approved path:

  1. Right side, upper back—but very close to the spine
  2. Right lung, top
  3. Right side of trachea
  4. Middle of throat

The problem with the above scenario is the extreme closeness of the back wound to the spine. It really would have gone into the spine had it continued on its journey.

No one reported finding the small bone or bullet fragment that Thompson believes created the throat wound, but that doesn’t mean anything. No one reported finding the bullet many believe entered from the front either. And again, this doesn’t mean anything. Look what else the pathologists didn’t document:

  1. As reported above, the doctors pretended they didn’t even know about the bullet wound in the throat.
  2. Not one word on the size and condition of the cerebellum. This omission is stunning, considering the victim was shot in the head, and the bad condition of the cerebellum as described by the Parkland doctors, evidence that challenges the official trajectory through the head.
  3. The exact vertical location of the back wound, as related to a vertebra.

Click here to see little known evidence that could show the two wounds are not connected, that the throat wound came first, then the back wound.

Thompson’s Book: Gourmet Food for Thought

Despite its flaws, Last Second in Dallas is a stimulating book about an eternal puzzle concerning the confounding details of this monumental murder. The book is rich in detail and a lot of it is factual and not well-known. But, if you have learned anything from the above, you need to always keep in mind the question, “What relevant facts were left out, and why?” My theory on why: certain facts could lead back to Who Done It. And, here’s another puzzle for you: What entity—in this day and age—is still suppressing inconvenient facts?

Last modified on Wednesday, 21 April 2021 23:16
Milicent Cranor

Milicent Cranor is currently a senior editor at whowhatwhy.org. She has been a creative editor at E.P. Dutton (fiction, non fiction); comedy ghostwriter; co-author of numerous peer-reviewed articles for medical journals; editor of consequential legal and scientific documents; former member of the American Mensa Society. Milicent was a frequent contributor to Probe.

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